Sunday, July 22, 2012

Wonderful, Terrible Things

     Early Friday morning, as I was driving into work, I learned along with the rest of the country that a young man, dressed in bulletproof gear and armed with an assault rifle among other weapons, entered a crowded midnight movie premiere at a theater in Colorado, shooting 70 people and killing 12. The media is flooded with images of the shooter and the victims, as well as with ongoing coverage of the controlled detonations of his booby-trapped, trip-wired, explosive-filled apartment. Everyone is asking different permutations of the same basic questions, "Why?" and "How?" Why did this happen? What were his motives? What red flags or behavioral clues did society miss? How does a person with no history of violence or encounters with the police transform from a quiet, unassuming neuroscience graduate student into a deranged psychopathic killer? What could have made him snap? Why does God let terrible things like this happen?
     This tragedy took place a day before my twin sons' 22nd birthday. I'd been looking forward to their birthday celebration all week long. For the last 21 years, I've baked them whatever kind of cake they wanted in every flavor imaginable: ice cream cakes, cupcakes, as well as cakes shaped like choo-choo trains and baseball mitts. This year, they requested a coconut cake. I'd planned to bake the cake and make some homemade ice cream after returning home from work on Friday afternoon. I got home early, right around lunchtime. After putting down my purse and changing out of my scrubs, I made the mistake of turning on CNN, which was predictably replete with non-stop commentary and speculation regarding the massacre. I immediately felt every ounce of my mojo, threatening mutiny. For a hot minute, I wasn't sure if I'd be able to muster up the energy required for cake-baking, much less putting together ice cream. "Maybe I should just get a store-bought cake and some Ben & Jerry's", I thought. And then, I thought a little bit more. I'd already purchased the ingredients necessary for the cake and ice cream, and I knew the boys were excited about their birthday dessert. I'd also eagerly anticipated a quiet afternoon of baking; for me, cooking is relaxing. Resolutely, I immersed myself in pastry.
     First, I made the ice cream. Because I keep a quart-sized, self-chilling, manually-cranked ice cream maker in my freezer, making my own ice cream is actually easier and faster than buying it at the store, as long as the recipe doesn't require cooking. I had some leftover buttermilk and a carton of crème fraîche (French-style soured cream) that I wanted to use up. I found a recipe for a no-cook lemon-buttermilk ice cream which called for buttermilk, milk, and cream, as well as vanilla, lemon juice, lemon zest, and granulated sugar. Substituting crème fraîche for heavy cream in ice creams adds a delightfully nutty, mildly tangy richness which I've come to adore. Since it is cultured, it keeps better than standard cream; I always have a container on hand. It took me about five minutes to assemble the ingredients, a minute to whisk them together until the sugar dissolved, then into the Chillfast container it all went. I turned the crank every three minutes while I prepared the cake, and in twenty minutes, I had ice cream. It was creamy, almost sorbet-like in texture, with just the right balance of milky-sugary sweetness and tanginess from the lemon and buttermilk. I then turned my attention fully to the evolving cake.
     I'd decided upon a gluten-free yellow cake, perfumed with lemon. Although none of us are gluten-sensitive, this recipe called for an interesting array of flours: coconut, sorghum, super-fine brown rice, and tapioca, as well as coconut milk, coconut sugar, and coconut oil. Since most coconut cakes are plain vanilla, topped with vanilla frosting and sprinkled with coconut, it seemed as if incorporating four sources of coconut into the cake batter would produce a more intensely flavored finished product. As I measured out the flours, zested and juiced the lemon, and cracked the eggs into the coconut milk, the worries of the world evaporated. My kitchen smelled heavenly, redolent with bright citrus and heady vanilla. I was in my "happy place." As the cake layers were baking, I located a jar of lemon curd, thinking that I could use it in the buttercream frosting. I'd bought the lemon curd on a whim a few months ago at TJ Maxx. It's one of those specialty items I can't seem to resist, and it's been sitting on my shelf, next to a tiny jar of black truffles and a little tin of rendered duck fat, just waiting to be purposed. I googled "lemon curd buttercream" and found a recipe, tweaking it by substituting coconut oil for the shortening. Velvety-smooth, boldly lemony, and not too sweet, this frosting was the perfect foil for the dense crumb and unusual texture which characterizes gluten-free baked goods. After the cake layers cooled, I split them in half, filling and frosting the four layers generously with the buttercream. Topped with mounds of snowy flaked coconut, the cake looked like Christmas in July.
     Spartacus and I took the boys out for their birthday dinner at a neighborhood pizza joint, where we sat outside in the surprisingly cool evening weather, enjoying delicious, thin-crust pizza with honey, refreshing pints of draft beer and sweet tea, and the warmth of companionship. I don't remember what our conversation was about, except that it was lively and stimulating and we laughed a lot. Afterwards, we came home, lit the candles on the cake, and sang, "Happy Birthday To You" as Nick and Rory each made wishes while blowing out the gently flickering flames, exactly as they've done for the last 20 years of their lives. In that instant, it occurred to me what social creatures we humans are, how no man is an island. If God does exist, then God is everything and nothing, and God is everyone and everyone is God, so there is really nothing but God. If there is nothing but God, then the man-made concepts of goodness and evil readily explain themselves; they are inextricably linked. We're all capable of wonderful, terrible things. If we've convinced ourselves that the simple joys of living and being aren't sufficient for happiness, we are never satisfied, and even when we seem to have it all, everything is never enough.  I can't solve the problems of the world. I can only live my life to its fullest, savoring every moment that I have here on earth with my beautiful, sweet sons, my beloved husband, my family, and my friends. Although it's not always a cake walk, I think life is about having our cake and eating it, too, the best of both worlds. I felt overcome by a deep sense of relief and gladness over not having let my mojo slip away that afternoon. Oddly enough, the pizza pub we went to is called "Mojo"...how's that for synchronicity?
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12 comments:

  1. Kris

    You definitely explore some tough subjects here. Alot of which people are probably thinking about but don't know exactly what to say about it. Tragedy happens, it makes the news, and all the wonderful things like homemade cakes and ice cream get overlooked. We as humans seem to only care about the tragedies in the world, which is just sad.

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    1. Thanks, Steven. I decided I wasn't going to let something I have absolutely no control over color my world miserable. There's just as much right with the world as there is wrong with it, in my opinion.

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  2. "If God does exist, then God is everything and nothing, and God is everyone and everyone is God, so there is really nothing but God. If there is nothing but God, then the man-made concepts of goodness and evil readily explain themselves; they are inextricably linked."

    Very well stated. I reached this same revelation some years ago. Religion has seemed to complicate the issue of God by referring to (he/she/it) as some deity that is 'out there' somewhere. A being we are trying to stay in good stead with, a being who will reward us for our faith and good behavior in an afterlife. In fact God is in all of us - together we comprise the all-knowing omnipresent God.

    Very simple concept really. I wonder how it got so gummed up with the hell and damnation stuff.

    Thanks for the good post. I gained 5 lbs drooling over the cake and ice cream! I love twin stories - I am one too!

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    1. Thanks so much for your comments, Jean. I am glad you enjoyed the post. I agree with you about how religion has resulted in this idea that God is external to the Self. It really is simple, but we humans seem to like making things complicated ;-). Are you a fraternal or identical twin? I have very much enjoyed being the mother of twins!

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  3. Kris, I stopped reading the papers and listening to the news over 25 years ago. All they do is create fear and fill one with impotent rage. We have a choice what we pay attention to. And I choose to give my attention to loving life, nature and people rather than what's wrong with the world.

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    1. You're absolutely right about the fear-mongering and misinformation that's perpetrated through the media; it's crippling. Yours is a wonderful principle to live by.

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  4. Sounds like you guys had a great time and didn't let what you cannot control take control.(Did that make sense? lol) Your cake and ice cream looked absolutely yummy!

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    1. Yes, Kristina, it was a wonderful birthday, and yes, what you said about control makes sense. The cake and ice cream were delicious...I really think there is nothing quite as yummy as homemade cake and ice cream.

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  5. I think that life is sometimes about what we do with what we have. Great opportunities have been missed in life because we cannot see what is in front of us.

    Kris, you had a choice, either make a birthday cake for your sons or to sit there and wallow in the madness of this world. This may sound harsh, but we all feel deep sorrow over what happened but life still has to go on. Your sons are here now, and you have to show them the best that life has to offer, no doubt they will see the worse of life as they hit the outside world (we all get a glimpse of that).

    I wasted many a year worrying about things that I had no control over, and where did it get me? almost in the 'nut' house. There is a time and place where you can have an impact ie: voting, petitioning, lobbying etc etc.... so I learned.

    The memories that you have given Nick and Rory will stay with them for the rest of their lives. And one day they will do the same for their children, and tell the stories of how grandma use to make them cakes of every colour and taste when they were growing up.

    HAPPY BIRTHDAY to the twins and lovely post Kris.

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    1. Aw, thanks, RPD! For a moment last Friday, I really felt myself getting caught up in the paralyzing cycle of despair and morbid fascination. Making the cake and ice cream was cathartic and soothing; it was the right thing to do. I will convey your birthday wishes to Nick and Rory.

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  7. Hello, sorry I lost touch for a while, I went from unemployed to 2 jobs and got overwhelmed. I really love this post, and respect your wisdom and strength. One wonders how many parents were fixed to their TVs feeling depressed, wondering how something like this could happen - while their children sat in their bedrooms praying for a little attention.

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